1. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    The point of critique

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by thirdwind, Apr 25, 2014.

    I've been looking through some of the critiques in the Workshop, and in my opinion, some people seem to go a bit overboard when critiquing. Some pieces are essentially being rewritten so that original style and voice are lost. This is the exact opposite of what I think the critiquing process should be about. The goal is to bring out the style and voice of the author. If you rephrase and restructure every single line, the piece loses its individuality. Again, this is just my personal opinion. Thoughts? Comments?
     
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  2. Okon
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    Okon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hm. What is a good mid-point? If the sentences need work, I don't think it's helpful to just say: "There are some issues with sentence structure here. Have a good day!" I like it when the critic tells the writer what their first impression of a sentence was: "There wasn't a comma here, so it reads as if it's the fork that's crying, not Mr. Jones." And "In this sentence, you're telling us what the fork knew, which is an abrupt change in POV. It's unlikely that Mr. Jones would know what the fork was thinking."

    Further, I haven't noticed any critiques that restructure every line. That's very in-depth and I don't think many people have the time for that.

    I'm curious, though, what's your idea of a good critique? Do you prefer it when the critic only focuses on the broader aspects of the story, such as character motivation and consistency? Is it possible to go overboard in that aspect is well?
     
    Last edited: Apr 25, 2014
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  3. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I know I am guilty of re-writing in critiques.

    It's not so much that I think I can do it 'better,' but rather it's the best way I know to illustrate what I mean. I do try to always explain WHY I'm doing it, and don't just dive in and start changing everything. Some people seem to appreciate my approach. Others don't.

    I would hate if somebody dove in and started re-writing everything I wrote, just because they want me to tell a different story in a different manner. However, if they re-write my 'mistakes' to correct them, while keeping my story and voice as intact as possible, then I'm fine with this.

    I remember when my very first beta reader—who is a writer himself—kindly re-wrote an entire chapter of mine, wiping out my inept use of passive voice. I learned the lesson much faster than if he'd just 'explained' what was wrong. His re-write allowed me to see what the changes would actually do for my story, and I'm eternally grateful he took this bold step.

    I've been on both ends of this critiquing method. I like it.
     
  4. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    I think the thing it pays to remember is that many critiques are written by those who are simultaneously learning to write. There's a certain amount of learning the ropes to get to a point where you realise how to be of help, not hindrance. I can't speak for anyone else but I've learned a great deal that way. I can only apologise to those to those who bore the brunt of my early efforts.

    I cringe at my first critique efforts even more than I do my first attempts to tell a story. And that's saying something.

    I actually like seeing portions rewritten. There's a difference between, say, taking a sentence and showing possible variations, with the intention of making it concise, or rhythmically more appealing, and saying, "That doesn't read right to me. This is how it should be written."
     
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  5. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I guess it all depends on whom one feels is intended to benefit from the critique process.

    It's been a day of analogies, so here's one more ;)....

    To me putting up a piece for critique is like bringing an eighth of crip to a little get-together of friends. You're going to get high, of course, you brought it, but so is everyone else because weed is a friendly drug. You share it. Other people don't smoke to get you high. They smoke to get themselves high and praise you for your choice of dank, and damn, look at all the little red hairs, or, geez, the xecto is so mecto you can see the crystals forming out on the surface of the bud. The next time, someone else brings the eighth and you get high of off what they brought.

    Like that. ;)

    For me, anyway.
     
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  6. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    This I have no problem with because you aren't changing the style of the original author. To use an extreme example, say someone like Hemingway posted something for critique, and Member X suggested edits such that the story had long sentences and paragraphs and unorthodox punctuation. At this point, the style has been altered so much that I'm left wondering whether I'm reading Hemingway or Member X.

    Since I'm primarily concerned with style and voice, I focus mainly on the language the writer used. So I definitely do pick out tiny things that I think can improve the piece. I'm certainly not arguing that we should only focus on broader aspects.

    I don't know if this means much, but I like your approach.

    But some writers don't go for conciseness because that's just not how they write. Some writers naturally tend to write longer, flowing sentences, which is perfectly fine.
     
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  7. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I've not read the critiques in question. @jannert, I've never read a post of yours I thought was re-writing a piece the negative way I think of it.

    For me, it's when people suggest you change elements of the story where the critiques can go seriously wrong. That's not to say one can't mention an aspect of the story is not credible.

    When people start saying a story should have this or that, or the character should do something else, that's annoying. I tune those critics out (out of courtesy) until they're done talking in my critique group. On the other hand some suggestions supplement a story rather than change it. In a chapter I wrote a month ago, my main character is eating food she doesn't recognize at the table with other people. People in my critique group had some excellent suggestions for the scene.

    I think if one can express what the problem is but let the writer solve the problem it's a better approach. For example, I might tell the writer I don't have any reason to care about the character, or I can't picture the setting, that lets them know what the problem might be, but the writer is the one that has to solve the problem.


    Perhaps, @thirdwind, you might post some short quotes of what you are referring to.
     
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  8. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Well, I don't want to post examples from the Workshop because that would just be poor manners, but I'll come back when I have time and post a passage from a famous writer along with a made-up critique to show you what I'm talking about.
     
  9. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    This is a good discussion to bring to light. How much is too much? How sparse is too sparse? What should reviewers focus on? etc. There are answers, but none of them I find definitive. I think you're right, @thirdwind; reviewers should show a level of restraint. Editors often have to exercise restraint, and I think this applies more heavily to critics because we have a smaller stake in the writing. I appreciate @jannert's approach because it is thorough, but is has the right tone, which I believe is the crux of the matter. Regardless of how much rewriting one suggests, they must present their review with a tone that reinforces that they are only making suggestions as to how they might write things.

    Every writer seeks to improve his or her voice, so I think it is the responsibility of the critics offering a review to read carefully and consider what the writer's intent might have been. There are different styles of writing and as many differences of opinion regarding their quality. One thing is certain is that certain elements can be effective or ineffective given the style and context of a particular piece.

    I'm at a point where reviewing has become less about "correcting" anything, and more about indicating things that stand out to me, questioning author intent and meaning, and providing suggestions as to how the writer might reconsider things. Sometimes people write in a style intentionally and changing it, while it could make the writing that much better, just isn't an option they are willing to take. So a generous reviewer (I say this because there is no obligation to this) might be willing to work at a more micro level to help improve elements of prose within a certain style.

    I still hold that writers must not be obstinate or argumentative, but reviewers have to maintain a level of distance. What really gets under my skin is when reviewers decide they only have time for such short as "I didn't get this. At all. I don't know what to say about it." These comments are less than helpful. Sure they do give the writer some feedback, but that is not workshop, in my opinion. :p
     
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  10. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    That wasn't even a remote concern when I started writing. I could barely string two words together, never mind worry about such concerns as maintaining the integrity of my voice. I didn't have one. Having possibilities laid out before me, gave me a better idea of how to turn myself into the writer I want to be.
     
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  11. Okon
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    Okon Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've seen cases of premature Mary Sue accusations, and yeah, there are times when the critic is a touch too definitive and bossy. I try to ask more rhetorical questions in my critiques now than I used to. @Andrae Smith has good oatmeal about just pointing out sore thumbs that the writer will probably be able to fix by themselves.

    Some critics (okay, all critics) put litres of personal preference into their critiques, which is unavoidable. If we're talking more about the workshop than critiques in general, the true solution is dilution. More critiques will make patterns easier to find for writers. I'm not saying I have any suggestions for the current bone-dryness of that area, though; people are busy people.
     
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2014
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  12. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    Yup... looking back through some of my reviews (cuz I review my reviews), I realized my tone can be pretty pushy at times. That in itself can be a huge turn off. I think rhetorical questions can be very useful. Although, it can be pretty useful to "make" the writer answer the questions. Even if the question seems rhetorical, the answer might prove valid enough to discuss, if not the writer will at least see where they need to do some rethinking.

    True, people are busy. You can't really expect everybody to stop and write a 500 word review of a piece. Still, I think 50-100 words might make a good minimum. It might help reviewers try a little harder to infuse at least one specific detail into their comments. It would also be great to see more reviewers, but the interest seems to ave died down for writing reviews (hopefully because people are writing, themselves ;)).
     
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  13. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    There are other ways of going overboard than simply rewriting the text into your own style. Sometimes I see people who've learned a few "rules" of writing apply them to comical extremes.

    For example, I read a critique in which the critic complained that she wasn't hooked early enough. There had to be a hook to get her to keep reading. Want to know how far she got into the story before she said there was no hook? Thirteen words. Not thirteen lines or thirteen sentences, but thirteen words - not even the whole first sentence!

    I've also seen critics complain that the writer is telling instead of showing based on half a sentence. Or a critic who doesn't seem very clear on the difference between showing and telling stating that the writer is telling when they aren't, or when they are, but justifiably. I've seen critics who have a knee-jerk reaction against passive voice - "Passive voice in fiction is always wrong!" - and point to sentences that are not in passive voice (leaving aside the fact that there is room for passive voice in fiction). We've had at least one critic around here who would keep rephrasing everything in a writer's story to be shorter. His contention was that good style requires the fewest possible words - if it were possible to rephrase something to save a word, it should be done because the prose automatically becomes better. Argh.

    People who get that pedantic about "rules" do not make good critics, and probably also make poor writers. They're missing the point of the art of writing.
     
  14. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I typically give examples to show what I'm seeing and how I think it could work better. But any writer who doesn't understand that those are examples to illustrate an opinion and that the choice to follow it or not is theirs needs to learn what a critique is.
     
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  15. aikoaiko
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    aikoaiko Contributing Member

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    I'm not sure what to think about this. I agree that it can be annoying to have someone replace your words with their own, but at the same time it does give you a second vantage point---whether you elect to use it or not. If push comes to shove, I think that I would rather have more critiques of any quality or type than a short list of two or three that focus solely on grammar or style (for ex). I can choose for myself what I change in my MS, but I cannot decide anything with no examples posted to consider.

    I am nowhere near as experienced as some of the people posting here, so my critiques (when I give them) must rely more on general impressions. I think an impression is very valuable, but so are in-depth analyses and even line-by-line dissection---especially if done to make a point. If someone with a great deal of writing skill has a better idea of how to word something, then I am always happy to hear it. But the decision of what to add, subtract, or edit in the end remains mine, and I will still have learned something from the process.
     
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  16. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    You are abso-freakin-lutely, 1000%, all-hail-this-godsend-analysis correct... :cool:

    Hadn't even though of these folks, but they're there. And it's almost funny.
     
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  17. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    Like @Wreybies, I agree that it's about who the intended beneficiary is.

    I'll be blunt...I'm selfish when it comes to critiquing. When I review something, I'm looking to hone my editing skills, because God knows I need to. The great thing about critiquing on a forum like this is that everyone can benefit from reading and writing critiques--the critiquer benefits from deeply analyzing the text and trying to understand why some things work and other things don't, the recipient gets the benefit of his or her work being analyzed, and third parties can come in and read the critiques and maybe learn a thing or two. Writing a critique is just as much a project, or a piece of creative art, as the original source material. It takes a lot of thought and a lot of effort to write a good critique, and to me it's worth putting in the effort. I know what I get out of writing a critique, and I know what I get out of reading other deeply thoughtful critiques--editing strategies and new writing techniques to practice on my own work.

    To me that's the fundamental purpose of writing critiques on this site--learn new things and hone the editing skills. I don't want to rewrite sentences. Why? Because that teaches me nothing. When I go to apply these new skills to my own work, I find a whole bunch of sentences the way I would write them...because I wrote them. Rewriting them in my style isn't going to help me one iota.

    But if I take the time to understand what I like and don't like about someone else's work, what issues I think are present and how I would fix them, what successes there are and why they work as well as they do, I can then apply that to my writing and hopefully both improve my work and my skill as an editor. Because, let's face it, you are the cheapest editor you're going to find. Better make sure you're worth your own time.
     
  18. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Let me show you guys an [exaggerated] example of what I'm talking about. Here are the first few sentences from Joyce's short story "The Sisters":

    For the sake of argument, let's say I suggest changes such that the passage now looks like this:

    My revision changed Joyce's style to the point where it's no longer Joyce (I also butchered Joyce's beautiful prose in the process :p). Specifically, I got rid of the dialogue and included that bit in the narrative. I also got rid of the colons (Joyce is said to be a master at using them). In short, it's clear that the passage was written by thirdwind and not by Joyce.
     
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  19. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    This is an interesting example, thirdwind. Joyce used colons and semicolons somewhat differently from the ways we use them today (at least in North America). I don't know if that's an idiosyncrasy of Joyce, or a specifically Irish usage, or an early-twentieth-century usage. It might be all three.
     
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  20. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    Yes, yes you did... but what a wonderful example!
     
  21. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    That is a good point. We should consider not only how the other uses language, but also the style in which language is used in a certain place and/or time. I think that modern writers would aim more for @thirdwind's revision simply due to how straightforward it is. It's a clean, easily approachable style. Joyce's original is not bad, but the way we use language has changed a little bit.

    I also like that you pointed out the colon and semicolon thing... it always strikes me when an author does this, but I have to go back and reconsider who is writing and when. Simply I wouldn't get away with using them here in the States.
     
  22. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Contemporary writers in the US still use colons and semicolons (and quite creatively I might add). I don't think it's as archaic or idiosyncratic as you guys think.
     
  23. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I still say it all depends down which end of the spyglass one is looking as regards the critique process. I give way more critique than I ever get simply by dint of there being way more items posted that fall into the category of {not mine} than those that {are mine}. And it's not that I don't hear and take advice from members when they pay me the honor (and I use that word without any irony) of critiquing my piece. I do. And I have learned much that way, but I have learned so much more by giving critique. When I give critique, I am teacher and student at the same time, and frankly, my ego is less subject to bruising when I teach myself through the work of critiquing another's item up for bid.

    When others rewrite my scenes (of course, it's happened) I'm clearly not obligated to prefer their versions nor agree with the reason for those versions. I see it as that person having a breakthrough in their own process. Do I think there's a line where ego ends up surpassing critique? Sure. But again, I'm under no obligation to recognize that trump card, just the same as I am not obligated to give coin to a critique that, for lack of a better word, is bollocks.

    I know my view is in the minority, because I usually get crickets whenever I start singing the above song, but it's the way I see it. At the end of the day, when I leave the forum (do I ever??? :p), it's me and my manuscript, not me and your manuscript. Anything I have done or learned here in that day was for the betterment of that. @xanadu calls him/herself out as "selfish" for having this same take on things, but I don't really think its selfish at all. ;) It's just about which thing you feel you are giving and which thing you feel you are getting.

    Most feel that advice is what you give and what you get.

    I feel that my item is my share of what goes into the pot and then we all have at that pot.
     
  24. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Maybe I'm just thinking too much like an editor. I believe a good editor shouldn't mess around too much with the writer's work. Since we're just aspiring writers critiquing the works of other aspiring writers on a forum (i.e., we're not editors), I totally understand where @Wreybies and @xanadu are coming from.
     
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  25. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I do think it's selfish, and I agree with it. Any art is profoundly selfish. When I write, I'm putting part of my soul on the page, not anyone else's. How can that not be a selfish act? Writing is giving away parts of yourself. Any art is giving away parts of yourself. When I say it's my manuscript, I mean it as a selfish statement. I insist on every word in it. Others can critique it, but the final say is always mine, because that's my soul on the page, not theirs. It's my name on the story, not theirs. I'm the one who will have to answer to God for it (metaphorically speaking, of course).

    If that's selfish, it's selfish. But it's not a bad thing. :)
     
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